By Vishwamithra –
“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
When Rohana Wijeweera was the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna the euphoria that was created around the JVP was primarily based on one single element which ultimately caused its own demise, especially among the middle-of-ground political activists and thinkers. The false scenario that gave rise to a false narrative that the JVP was extremely popular and its wings spread across a wide spectrum of political activism was mainly a product of the exhibitionistic approach they adopted from the very beginning.
At the famous Hyde Park rally on February 27, 1971, when the then underground group which was widely known as the ‘Che Guevara Clique’ (Che Guevara Kalliya) made its grand entry into the popular political platform, Wijeweera thundered that the capture of political power in the country by the JVP was imminent. There was nothing more remote from the truth than that false narrative. At a military level, a couple of thousand-strong activists armed with crude gun power consisting of locally manufactured ‘Gal Katas’ and hand bombs could not match the firepower of the traditional military of the State. When the initial thrust of the JVP against the police stations failed, the deployment of the Ceylonese Army finished the job. Democracy prevailed and tens of thousands of the nation’s youth along with the leadership of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna began their prison time, some making use of that time to educate themselves and pursue higher studies such as Jayadeva Uyangoda and some just rotting away.
A mere one or two hundred thousand-strong group of followers, island-wide, trekking from one large rally to another gave the false impress that the JVP was really building its base and Wijeweera of all people became a victim to that fabricated narrative. Since the freeing from prison of Wijeweera in 1977, this exhibitionistic approach to image-building of the JVP in politics came crashing down in 1982. At the 1st Presidential Elections in that year, Rohana Wijeweera, the JVP leader and candidate, managed to obtain an insubstantial number of votes, mere 273,428, and 4.2% of the total poll. Political activism by a few does not count for massive turnouts at the polls in a democracy and a limited number of political activists is no substitute for substantial numbers that the traditional political parties which existed at the time. Both United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) party, each had a base consisting of a couple million-strong bases from which they could launch a political campaign being certain of a reality of mustering even a larger chunk of votes at the polls.
Exhibitionism has its advantage. As much as it might project a narrative that satisfies the leadership of the Party and pushes his or her ego, it also has its intrinsic yet concealed reality of the disastrous side of the same phenomenon. If massive crowds at mass political rallies are a clear barometer of a given election, Sarath Fonseka would not have lost the Presidential Elections in January, 2010.
Nevertheless, the JVP is continuously being blindsided by the massive crowds that turn out at their mass rallies. And if its current leadership needs to go forward with any realistic idea of securing victory at a future Presidential Election, they do not need to go back to the results of the 1982. Just have a cursory glance at the results of the 2019 Presidential Election results. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the current leader of the JVP received 418,553, a mere 3.6% of the total poll. Yet AKD and the JVP held the biggest ever political rally at the Galle Face Green during the campaign.
None is so blind as those who refuse to see. AKD and the JVP leadership should not fall into that excruciatingly painful reality of blindness to facts and figures. Numbers don’t lie, but people do. Lionel Bopage, one time Wijeweera loyalist, in his now-famous resignation letter addressed to the Central Committee of the JVP, explained most accurately the adverse effects of exhibitionism in politics. I’m sure AKD has read it many times. But one more time is not one too many.
In the context of this harsh reality, one must realize the unmistakable truth that the voters expressed at the Presidential Elections held in 2015. With a very weak candidate, the then Opposition led by the United National Party, Maithripala Sirisena managed to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa, of course with the assistance of the JVP. That is because Maithripala was the candidate of a coalition that consisted of all anti-Rajapaksa opposition. That is the plain and bitter truth AKD and the JVP must face. If AKD believes that he could defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa or any other candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Pohottuwa) on his own, it is not only unrealistic, it is, in fact, laughable.
Yet Anura Kumara Dissanayake still remains the most credible political leader in Sri Lanka today. His stature is growing each day. His masterful oratory backed by unshakable facts and figures, his seemingly humble disposition and his intensity are inimitable tools in the hands of a clever political leader. However, AKD is not a tested leader as yet. As much as Sajit Premadasa is untested, so is AKD. AKD does not have any Ministerial accomplishments to boast about; any assertions that his followers could make as to his assertions are as untrue as the color black is white and blue is red.
In a very harsh context of political campaigning, when a candidate is pitched against a formidable money-force backed by access to the most sophisticated political machinery possessed and operated by the Pohottuwa group, in the unlikelihood of being chosen as the common candidate, AKD’s burden of responsibility is enormous, to say the least. But that is to predict things yet to come.
There is no future for any loner-politician. Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019, for that matter even Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 and 2010 were no loner-fighters. A tremendous force of a left-oriented coalition was behind each of the Rajapaksas. Ironically, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a consummate left-winger, and a confirmed Marxist, needs to muster the right wing and the center of right-wing political forces in the country to be successful at the elections. On top of these ironic political configurations, the extreme Buddhist fundamentalists are rallying around the Rajapaksas and that is due to the fact that the Rajapaksas are being crowned as the central architects of the ‘War Victory’ against the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). Another irony of this convoluted context is that these Buddhist Fundamentalists are basically ‘right-wing’ charlatans.
One becomes increasingly bewildered when one is confronted with these new realities in the political arena today. AKD cannot help but accept these realities as new factors that were not in existence in the ’71 era and later in the period that spanned between 1987 and 1989. The portrait that is emerging from the various social media platforms cannot be relied upon in the workings of political calculus. Albeit the fact that today’s social media has become widely accepted as an alternative information and news outlet, its unreliability would play a very significant role when the ultimate decisions are made regarding whom to vote for or against.
Have the JVP and its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake realized these sheltered nuances of modern-day politics and if so what formulae of adjustments and changes they intend making in their quest for a change of government? The writer is quite convinced of the potential and commitment of the JVP. Yet as an untested political entity exercising real power would be an extremely hard one to hypothesize and the outcome of such projections will invariably be prone to untold errors and uncalculated risks.
Hence the challenge before AKD and his Party are tremendous. The manner in which Sajit is meandering in Sri Lanka’s political landscape is a great example of how a serious political activism should not be conducted. If oversimplification is mistaken for simplicity and rally-crowds are mistaken for real votes, the results could be disastrous and the nation’s destiny is bound to remain in the cruel and crude hands of the Rajapaksas.
In ‘The Cherry Orchard’ Anton Chekhov writes: “I know exactly the potential of the people around here. They have the potential to lie. They have the potential to deceive. They have the potential to inveigle. They’ll change nothing. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I lie awake thinking, my God! We have so much. We have these huge forests. We have boundless open fields. We can see the deepest, furthest horizons. Look around you. Look. We should be giants. We really, really aren’t.” Such is the present context. As much as Chekov describes his environs so intensely, we have to look around and be empathetic and certainly be focused. Such focus and empathy and intensity might bring about the realization for the need to change, the need to take a different path altogether.
Trudging the same old, well-trodden path will not lead to our common destination; Shouting out the same slogans and expressing same anger might not produce the same results. It’s time to deviate from our traditional path, from our conventional and old thinking. We have failed for seventy three years. Are we willingly going down as a society and as a nation? We must not.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org